ASU upsets Arizona in double OT win for Territorial Cup

They saved the best for last.  This year’s end-of-the-season rivalry game between Arizona and Arizona State truly earned its “Duel in the Desert” nickname.

Actually, it was kind of like watching two games.  The first half, when the only scoring on the field came from two Thomas Weber field goals for ASU, seemed totally disjointed from what fans watched in the second half.

The one-point, double-overtime win by underdog ASU has to go down as one of the more exciting games in the history of this 84-year-old battle each year for ownership of the fabled Territorial Cup and state bragging rights until next season.

With its 30-29 victory, Arizona State salvaged what would have been its third losing season in a row, knocked off a ranked opponent, and kept a flicker of hope alive for a bowl invite.

Perhaps even more important, it gave the Sun Devils momentum going into next year when its young, talented squad will get a chance to mature and grow into the kind of team head coach Dennis Erickson has been trying to build since arriving in Tempe four years ago.

The game featured the best passing offenses in the Pac-10, but in this game it was ASU’s defense that blocked two point-after attempts, including the one to seal the win, and a stack of dead-on field goals by a kicker that has struggled with inconsistency this season.

A string of five field goals – including one from 52 yards out – by Weber kept the Sun Devils in the game, with two of those providing the game’s only scores in the entire first half.

It was a great performance by Weber to close out a stellar college career.  He was recognized as the best college kicker in the country in 2007 when he won the Lou Groza Award, but hasn’t been able to put together that kind of season since.  Last year, he was hampered by injuries and this year his accuracy has been spotty – until last night.

In a late resurgence of the kind of offensive firepower the Cats displayed most of the season, Nick Foles threw for three touchdowns for the Cats to pull them out of an 11-point hole and engineered what appeared to be the winning drive, as he tossed a 5-yard completion to David Douglas with half a minute left on the clock in regulation.

But junior defensive end James Brooks from Flagstaff High School blocked the PAT to send the game into overtime – and then, to Arizona’s utter bewilderment, blocked the point-after again at the close of the second overtime for the story-book win.

(btw…there is an incredible photo, taken by Dean Knuth, that accompanies the Arizona Daily Star online article about the game.  It captures the exact moment of the first blocked kick, as James Brooks stretches to the sky to knock down the ball and send the game into overtime.)

Arizona got off to a great start this season, building a 7-1 record and moving all the way up the national rankings to No. 9 before crashing and burning during November, when it couldn’t win a game.  Coach Mike Stoops appeared to be headed for a third straight 8-win season and possibly a major BCS bowl.

But the euphoria dissipated with four consecutive losses to close out the regular season, and now they have the same conference record as their rivals down the road.  Both schools are 4-5 in the Pac-10 and have questionable bowl prospects.

UofA (7-5) will get invited to go bowling, but not to the kind of event they had envisioned a month ago.  It won’t be tux and tails after all.  It looked it might be the Alamo Bowl, but the loss to ASU has likely derailed that possibility.

ASU (6-6) will have to depend on luck to extend its season, since they are technically not bowl-eligible, even though they have six wins.  Their two wins over FCS teams are only counted as a single win.

They had hoped there wouldn’t be enough teams eligible for all the bowls that need participants, but it turns out that there are enough teams bowl-eligible to fill the spots in the 35 bowls.  Instead, they will make an appeal that they were forced to include two FCS teams on their schedule when San Jose dropped its game from the 2010 schedule.

So both teams sit and wait.  Neither has particularly good prospects for life after the regular season.  Neither finished with the kind of season they envisioned back in August.

Perhaps the fans were the only real winners this year.  They got to witness one of the wildest Territorial Cup finishes ever.